A Tale of Two Buns – Part One

It’s Chinese New Year! The year of the Ram (or sheep or goat depending on who you ask) is about to begin. For those born under that sign, such as myself, great things are about to arrive. For the rest of you…well, I’m sure you’ll have a good year too.

My friend, Kristi, and I always try to celebrate in some capacity, whether it be dinner with family and friends, a trip to get some dim sum, or just an excuse to get a mani/pedi. Because who wants to start a new year with busted up nails?

This year we thought we’d do something different. For years we’ve been talking about making our own char siu bao (barbecue pork buns), so we figured it’s time to actually do it. Kristi has tried it before, but the attempt was…let’s just say…not ideal, so this time we had higher aspirations.

A bao is a steamed (or baked) bun filled with some sort of filling. At dim sum you can get the classic char siu, or with chicken or vegetable fillings. There are also the sweet versions filled with taro or bean paste, and they are all delicious packages of goodness.

These days the trendy thing is a flat version of bao that’s treated more like a sandwich or a taco. They are filled with things like pork belly, or spam, among other things, and used a lot in fusion cuisine.  But to me, they don’t feel the same.  The bread feels too spongy, or too tasteless, and every time you bite into one of them, the filling inevitably falls out the other end, which is not what a bao is supposed to be.  Is ist authentic, though?  My research was inconclusive.  All I know is that if you put lettuce anywhere near bao dough, you’re just wrong.

So it wasn’t a question about what style of bao we were going to make, but was it going to be steamed or baked? I prefer the fluffy, steamed kind that are like white clouds of delight, whereas Kristi prefers the slightly sweeter and denser, baked version. Obviously the only answer was to make both!

Today I will cover our first attempts at making the steamed buns, and tomorrow I will ring in the new year with our baking trials. Please remember, this is our first real try at this, and we are working on our technique. (How’s that for setting the bar low?!)

If there’s one thing Kristi is good at, it’s being a host. I went over to her place for our culinary adventure, and she had everything we needed already laid out.

IMG_6972Look at this spread!

And look how thrilled I am to be on a culinary adventure!

IMG_5192Grinning like an idiot with a steamer

First things first: YEAST!

IMG_6977You gotta have yeast.

We started mixing the dough with a whisk, as the (very old) recipe suggested, but that got too hard very quickly. Kristi took off her rings and dove right in to finish it off.

IMG_6985This is no time for whisks.

Since it was our first time, we cheated and bought the char siu pork.  Baby steps.  While she finished the dough, I got to chopping.

IMG_6988I could have eaten all of this as is.

We decided to make slightly different fillings for each style of bun.  For the steamed ones, I mixed the pork with soy sauce, oyster sauce, some salt, pepper, sugar, and green onions.

IMG_6994Look how delicious!  

Then came the hard part.  Stuffing the buns.  There are plenty of videos on how to do it, and they make it all look so simple. “You just flatten a piece of dough, add a little pork, and pleat it like so.” They did it in about 10 seconds with perfect pleats.

Needless to say, we were not as skilled.

IMG_5193That doesn’t mean we weren’t having a good time!

IMG_7002Ta-dah! Our first one actually turned out quite pretty.

IMG_7010The rest had…mixed results. 

It’s not as easy as it looks.

Then comes the waiting. The dough needs to rise for an HOUR AND A HALF.  Good thing we had some errands to do.  After all that waiting we were rewarded with some light, puffy buns ready to be cooked.

IMG_7016They look way better now.

Throw them into the steamer for 15 minutes…

IMG_7019The anticipation was killing us!

And may I present to you the first pork bun made by both me and Kristi:


I’m not gonna lie, the rest of them were not this pretty.  But the taste was spot on.  The dough was fluffy and light, and the filling was just salty enough to make you want more. I’m pretty impressed with our first try.

Now that we tried the steamed buns, how would we fare with the baked buns?!  Tune in tomorrow for the answer! #cliffhanger


One thought on “A Tale of Two Buns – Part One

  1. Dear Kristi….you kids are awesome. In my ninety years I’ve never attempted to make
    pork buns….steamed OR baked because of the difficulties of doing it just right—or else. For first timers, you did a wonderful job and I’m proud of you. Keep up the good works and in time you can write your own cookbook. Auntie Laura


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